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EZRA ...

THE OLD TESTAMENT BOOK OF EZRA EMPHASIZES BIBLE SEPARATION IN AT LEAST FIVE DIFFERENT PLACES!

LORD WILLING, WE SHALL STUDY EACH OF THESE IN THIS SERIES OF EXPOSITIONS.

EZRA 2:61-63

EZRA 4:1-3

EZRA 6:20-22

EZRA 8:24-30

AND EZRA 10:19

 

 A Preacher in his Study

 

TEXT 1 ... EZRA 2:61-63 ... SEPARATION AND THE PRIESTS:

The people of Israel, a few of them at least, are leaving Babylon.

They are returning home to Israel!

The seventy years of "captivity," judgment for their sins, are now ended!

Just under 50,000, a meager number from the whole nation, are going back "home."

The journey of 700 miles will take several months to complete.

The people of course must be carefully numbered and, in some cases, their lineage verified.

Among those, Ezra 2:61-63 reports ... "And of the children of the priests: the children of Habaiah, the children of Koz, the children of Barzillai; which took a wife of the daughters of Barzillai the Gileadite, and was called after their name: these sought their register among those that were reckoned by genealogy, but they were not found: therefore were they, as polluted, put from the priesthood. And the Tirshatha said unto them, that they should not eat of the most holy things, till there stood up a priest with Urim and with Thummim."

Let's look at a few facts about this Text.

It was particularly important, really essential, that God's Men have the right heritage.  Their "papers" must be in order!

And, after so many years, it seems some of the future priests of Israel had become negligent in their registration.

"Habiah" means "Jehovah has hidden."  His children's "papers" would have been critically important because he is not mentioned anywhere else in all the Bible.

"Koz" means "nimble."  His descendants might have been a little too nimble or lax when it came to their heritage!  One of these folks is mentioned in Nehemiah as a helper in rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem.  See Nehemiah 3:4 and 21.  Here we see an example of a man being approved for wall construction, but not approved for the priesthood!  There is a vital difference!

Then the children of Barzillai, whose name means "iron."  Yet these men took the name of their wives' forefather!  Maybe that's being a little too much influenced by a woman.  Priests must have strong convictions and identities! Not too easily influenced, even by women.  (Remember Ahab!)  Do not misunderstand me.  Barzillai was a great man, but not the real fathers to these priests.

The noun "register" is "kathab" in Hebrew and means "writing" or even "scripture."  Somewhere once existed documents proving their ancestry, but they had lost them!

The verbal adjective "polluted" is "gaal" and means defiled or stained!  As some of you can tell, the word "gaal" is akin to the noun for "redeemer!"  These men despised their identity ... or at least were very careless with it.

And the expression "were reckoned by genealogy" is unique.  It means "to sprout!"  It pictures some kind of a family "tree" situation!  To enroll by pedigree!

These men were disqualified from serving the Lord!

At least until the Tirshatha (Governor) could determine the next course of action on their behalf!

The verb "put from" has the idea of repudiation!  Rejection!

They could not even fellowship at table with the other Men of God!

Their verdicts would be suspended if, when a High Priest with Urim (meaning "lights") and Thummim (meaning "perfection") arose ... and God said otherwise.

The Urim and Thummin were two stones that could be drawn randomly from a pouch behind the High Priests' Breastplate ... to indicate God's Will in a matter.

Here we have a group of men who got lazy when it came to the assurance of their "calling" and "service" for God!

And such slothfulness cost them their ministries!

Men of God, beware!

Don't lose sight of your "papers!"

Be sure you are saved!

Be sure of your Call to preach!

And review your testimony regularly!

                                                                                --- Dr. Mike Bagwell

 

 

TEXT 2 ... EZRA 4:1-3 ... SEPARATION AND THE NEIGHBORS:

The Jews have arrived back in the Holy Land!

The seventy year's captivity have ended.

The Temple must be rebuilt.  Worship of Jehovah God is essential.

Then it happened.

"Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the children of the captivity builded the temple unto the LORD God of Israel; then they came to Zerubbabel, and to the chief of the fathers, and said unto them, Let us build with you: for we seek your God, as ye do; and we do sacrifice unto him since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assur, which brought us up hither. But Zerubbabel, and Jeshua, and the rest of the chief of the fathers of Israel, said unto them, Ye have nothing to do with us to build an house unto our God; but we ourselves together will build unto the LORD God of Israel, as king Cyrus the king of Persia hath commanded us."  Ezra 4:1-3

As soon as the Israelites began to build the new Temple, they had an alluring "offer" from the neighbors!

The inhabitants of the land, ungodly to the core, wanted "to build" with the Jews!

But their very lifestyle was filled with idolatry and perversion and wickedness. Of course they could say "we seek your God, as ye do; and we do sacrifice unto him" because they worshipped every god and goddess imaginable! Adding the God of the Jews to their "list" was no problem!  Their spiritual condition is described in 2nd Kings 17:24-41.  It was bad!

This practice is called "syncretism."  It literally means "with" ("syn") the Cretians, the notoriously ungodly people of Crete!   Mixing things together to get a hodgepodge of politically correct doctrine!   Such blending of error with truth precipitated the fall of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, bringing about their Assyrian Captivity.

This is still being done today!  Many religions and churches now take a bit of Baptist doctrine and mix it with some charismatic practice and add to that a dose of Catholicism and a dash of mysticism or Mormonism and so forth! Creating one's own "religion!"

We had better get back to living by Paul's great maxim from Romans 3:4.  "Let God be true, but every man a liar."  Amen!

But these ancient yet modernistic liberals (the inhabitants of Canaan) heard a resounding NO from the Jewish leaders!

They said:  "Ye have nothing to do with us to build an house unto our God; but we ourselves together will build unto the LORD God of Israel."  Ezra 4:3

This is old-fashioned Bible separation, folks!

This is "classic" obedience to the principles of Scripture.  "Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?"  And "Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you."  2nd Corinthians 6:14,17

The leaders of Israel based their godly work on two other facts as well. 

First, it was apparently essential they they build "together."  The word "yachad" means "in union" or "alike."

The largest obstacle to the Temple project was not the carnal people of the land, although no cooperation with them could be allowed!  It was rather some sort of division splitting the people of God into factions and cliques!

They must build together!

Then it was important to obey the King who had authority over their work!  After all, He was the financier of the project!

By the way, there is a King, a Lord, a mighty God over our work too!  And He pays our bills too!

We must please Him in every area!

And, having separated themselves from these syncretistic people, the work progressed to the Glory of God!

Purity is important in the Book of Ezra.  It just may be the overall theme of the whole ten chapter Text!

By the way, did you notice that these "neighbors" were ... in the very first word of today's Text ... called "adversaries!"

Adversaries ... saying they wanted to help!

Sure!

Also notice that, once refused, these unsaved rebels fought the Temple and the Jews furiously! 

Separation may invite further misunderstanding and opposition from the enemy, but God must be obeyed at any cost.

                                                                                   --- Dr. Mike Bagwell

 

 

TEXT 3 ... EZRA 6:20-22 ... SEPARATION AND THE NATIONS:

Finally the Temple is completed! 

Shortly thereafter the Passover was observed by the Israelites.

"For the priests and the Levites were purified together, all of them were pure, and killed the passover for all the children of the captivity, and for their brethren the priests, and for themselves. And the children of Israel, which were come again out of captivity, and all such as had separated themselves unto them from the filthiness of the heathen of the land, to seek the LORD God of Israel, did eat, and kept the feast of unleavened bread seven days with joy: for the LORD had made them joyful, and turned the heart of the king of Assyria unto them, to strengthen their hands in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel."  Ezra 6:20-22

Here we see the Bible "pattern" for authentic godly "separation" from sin.

The Passover alone is a great picture of Jesus Christ our Saviour! 

The innocent Lamb portrays Him.

The shedding of the blood does too!

Even their eating the roast lamb to gain strength for the work ahead typifies that even now, as Christians, we draw stamina and resolve to live for Christ and walk by faith as we think back upon the Cross and ponder its manifold beauty.

And, of course, the blood of the lamb spared the firstborn children from death! So does Jesus' sacrificial and vicarious death on Golgotha deliver us from an eternal Hell!

No wonder those who handled it had to be "pure."  The word means clean or purged.

Also notice that all God's people could participate.  The "groups" are listed as:  "all the children of the captivity," then "their brethren the priests," and "for themselves." That last phrase means the priests who were themselves officiating at the Passover Event.

But ... look!

Another group is mentioned too!

And "all such as had separated themselves unto them from the filthiness of the heathen of the land" were included as well!  These are people who have followed God ... but who had not been taken to Babylon!  They had remained in the land.  But, when the Jews returned, these folks renounced sin and fastened themselves to Jehovah God.

Yes, one requirement for participation in this extremely critical time of worship was "separation" from the sins of the ungodly.

The verb "separated" translates "badal" and means "to divide or sever!"  To make a distinction! 

A similar wording is found in Nehemiah 10:28.  It reads: "And the rest of the people, the priests, the Levites, the porters, the singers, the Nethinims, and all they that had separated themselves from the people of the lands unto the law of God ...."

The first Bible use of "badal" is in Genesis 1:4 where God "divided" the light from the darkness.

Separation involves saying NO to sin!

It has a negative side ... rejecting the ungodly practices of wicked men and women!

Then, immediately our Text continues, speaking of those who "had separated themselves unto them from the filthiness of the heathen of the land, to seek the LORD God of Israel!"  This is positive!

See that!

The negative part of separation ... "had separated themselves unto them from the filthiness of the heathen of the land" is directly followed by a positive aspect of separation ... "to seek the LORD God of Israel!"

Amen!

The verb "seek" is "darash" in Hebrew and means "to search or enquire or investigate or consult."  The well used Old Testament phrase "to enquire of the Lord" is built upon this verb root.

This is a positive, love-induced response!

Hating sin because one loves the Lord!

I'll say this.  The love of God is so powerful and so wonderful it should always dwarf and expel any kind of so-called love for the world!  1st John 2:15 pretty well summarizes what needs to be said here: "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him."

Also it looks to me like the phrase "and all such as had separated themselves unto them from the filthiness of the heathen of the land" just might allow the inclusion of a few Gentiles!  Those people who had renounced wickedness and separated themselves from the sins of their culture!  Having repented and believed in the God of Israel!

God saves sinners ... no matter their racial or educational or financial or social background!

Whosoever!

What lessons this short Text affords us!

And ... upon these "separated" people (separated from the world and to the Lord) ... God poured three manifold categories of blessings!

"For the LORD had made them joyful, and turned the heart of the king of Assyria unto them, to strengthen their hands in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel."  Ezra 8:22

God gave them "joy."  In Hebrew "Samach" means "to brighten up" with glee!

Also God blessed them with favor and finances from the powerful King of Assyria!  Remember, "The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will."  Proverbs 21:1

Then God "strengthened their hands" for the work!  This verb, "chazaq," means "to harden or to prevail or to be stout or to encourage!"  One of the most often used expressions in the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah deals with God's Hand being upon His workers!  For example, "Then I told them of the hand of my God which was good upon me." Nehemiah 2:18

Let me close with these words:  The more separated from sin and unto the Lord one becomes ... the more he or she will enjoy God's good blessings!

Of that we can be sure!

                                                                               --- Dr. Mike Bagwell

 

 

TEXT 4 ... EZRA 8:24-30 ... SEPARATION AND THE MONEY:

A more complete exposition of this Text can be studied by visiting our "Ezra 8:24-30 Page."  There, in detail, each verse is analyzed.

Here simply notice that on a second journey from Babylon to Jerusalem Ezra himself leads the people. 

They were carrying tons of precious treasure!  Gold and silver and copper and vessels were among the sacred cargo.  This was to be used in the Lord's work. In value these treasures were worth well over one hundred million dollars in today's currency.

Yet Ezra immediately noticed that no priests were available to help transport the valuables.

He "separated" twelve such men and commissioned them to safely conduct the load to Jerusalem.

Then the separated men, all sons of Aaron, were told by Ezra: "Ye are holy unto the LORD; the vessels are holy also; and the silver and the gold are a freewill offering unto the LORD God of your fathers." Ezra 8:28

This word "holy" is "qodesh" and means "dedicated, consecrated or set apart" unto God. 

Both the gold and silver and vessels and remaining gifts were holy also!

They could be used for nothing but the work of the Lord, in service and worship of Jehovah!

But the men who handle holy vessels must themselves be holy too!

This means they had been been sprinkled by the blood of an innocent lamb, a picture of Jesus' Death on the Cross!  They had also been anointed with special olive oil, symbolic of the Holy Spirit!    Then they had carefully bathed properly, dressed in accordance to God's standards, and touched no dead thing lately. They could have consumed no strong drink either.  It also means that their hearts were pure before God!

They were "ceremonially" clean, as the Jews would have said.

This is an aspect of separation too.

Sin and filth and immorality ... practiced everywhere in those days ... had been left far behind by these godly men.

They had additionally added into their lives ... clean living and fervent love for God!

When one extracts some evil from his heart ... he must immediately replace it with something good, something godly!

These priests had done so!

Holy men for holy work!

Listen to Isaiah preach basically the same sermon, only a couple of centuries earlier:  "Depart ye, depart ye, go ye out from thence, touch no unclean thing; go ye out of the midst of her; be ye clean, that bear the vessels of the LORD." Isaiah 52:11

That's amazing!

That's also why, in the New Testament, God gives certain basic requirements or qualifications for a Pastor!

Holy hearts and holy lives for those who handle the Holy Bible!

Amen!

Ezra is a Book of separation!

                                                                           --- Dr. Mike Bagwell

 

 

TEXT 5 ... EZRA 10:10 ... SEPARATION AND SEX:

In Ezra 9:1-2 we discover a sin that had overtaken many of the Israelites.  "Now when these things were done, the princes came to me, saying, The people of Israel, and the priests, and the Levites, have not separated themselves from the people of the lands, doing according to their abominations, even of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites. For they have taken of their daughters for themselves, and for their sons: so that the holy seed have mingled themselves with the people of those lands: yea, the hand of the princes and rulers hath been chief in this trespass." 

They had intermarried with the ungodly Canaanite population of the land.

These people worshipped other gods and would have been a detriment to the spiritual progress of the Jews.

Ezra was upset by such compromise.  "And when I heard this thing, I rent my garment and my mantle, and plucked off the hair of my head and of my beard, and sat down astonied."  Ezra 9:3

Having prayed a prayer of confession and repentance for his country, Ezra reviewed the Scriptures concerning "separation" from the people of heathen lands.  "Which thou hast commanded by thy servants the prophets, saying, The land, unto which ye go to possess it, is an unclean land with the filthiness of the people of the lands, with their abominations, which have filled it from one end to another with their uncleanness. Now therefore give not your daughters unto their sons, neither take their daughters unto your sons, nor seek their peace or their wealth for ever: that ye may be strong, and eat the good of the land, and leave it for an inheritance to your children for ever."  Ezra 9:11-12

After calling an assembly of the wise elders of the land, a decision was reached about these "wrong" marriages.  "Now therefore let us make a covenant with our God to put away all the wives, and such as are born of them, according to the counsel of my lord, and of those that tremble at the commandment of our God; and let it be done according to the law."  Ezra 10:3

Look at this!

Forced divorces were on the horizon!  "Then arose Ezra, and made the chief priests, the Levites, and all Israel, to swear that they should do according to this word. And they sware."  Ezra 10:5

The Israelites all were summoned to Jerusalem and ... "Ezra the priest stood up, and said unto them, Ye have transgressed, and have taken strange wives, to increase the trespass of Israel. Now therefore make confession unto the LORD God of your fathers, and do his pleasure: and separate yourselves from the people of the land, and from the strange wives."

The people all agreed!  "Then all the congregation answered and said with a loud voice, As thou hast said, so must we do."  Ezra 10:12

Then, of the guilty parties themselves, this is said.  "Let now our rulers of all the congregation stand, and let all them which have taken strange wives in our cities come at appointed times, and with them the elders of every city, and the judges thereof, until the fierce wrath of our God for this matter be turned from us."  Ezra 10:14

The offending men agreed.  "And they gave their hands that they would put away their wives; and being guilty, they offered a ram of the flock for their trespass."  Ezra 10:19

Sadder yet ... "and some of them had wives by whom they had children."  (Ezra 10:44)  In fact, that's the last verse in the whole Book of Ezra.

Separation was to them so important ... that wrong marriages had to be dissolved!

But keep in mind that these marriages, these unequal yokes, were very dangerous indeed!  They were the equivalent of spiritual suicide really!

The "godly seed" of David was apt to be polluted, destroying the royal seed through which Messiah Jesus would be born! 

Separate yourselves!

These heathen women were ungodly and followers of heathen idols.

As such, they ... by Mosaic Law ... were supposed to be tried and, if found guilty, slain!  "If thy brother, the son of thy mother, or thy son, or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy friend, which is as thine own soul, entice thee secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which thou hast not known, thou, nor thy fathers; namely, of the gods of the people which are round about you, nigh unto thee, or far off from thee, from the one end of the earth even unto the other end of the earth; thou shalt not consent unto him, nor hearken unto him; neither shall thine eye pity him, neither shalt thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him: but thou shalt surely kill him; thine hand shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people. And thou shalt stone him with stones, that he die; because he hath sought to thrust thee away from the LORD thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage. And all Israel shall hear, and fear, and shall do no more any such wickedness as this is among you." Deuteronomy 13:6-11

Better to divorce these women and allow them to return home ... than to stone them to death.  In that sense Ezra's plan was one of mercy!

Obviously this practice, if continued and allowed to broaden, would again lead Israel to abandon Jehovah God.  That was the sin that led to the Babylonian Captivity in the first place!

See what terrible consequences the sin of compromise introduces into human lives!  What tragedy and sadness!

And also see what importance holiness is given in the life of a godly nation!

"Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people." Proverbs 14:34

Remember, in God's eyes "idolatry" is spiritual adultery!

                                                                                     --- Dr. Mike Bagwell

 

HOW CRITICALLY IMPORTANT SEPARATION FROM SIN MUST BE TO ALMIGHTY GOD!

 

 

 

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